HC Deb 23 May 1973 vol 857 cc446-7
11. Mr. Adam Hunter

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how many applications for planning permission he has received for the sinking of new collieries in Scotland; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Younger


Mr. Hunter

Does not the hon. Gentleman think that there is too much indifference about the future size of the coal mining industry in Scotland? Does he not also think that the Secretary of State should take a greater interest in this matter, particularly when it is known that new sinkings have been considered in other parts of the United Kingdom? Did the hon. Gentleman see a report that the Minister of State had warned Scottish people to avoid an oil neurosis? Does not the hon. Gentleman think that it would be better for Scotland if more people were affected by a pro-coal neurosis, instead of an anti-coal hysteria as displayed by one of my colleagues a few days ago?

Mr. Younger

I should not like to comment on that last point, except to say that I do not think anyone would ever accuse me of suffering from anti-coal hysteria. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree that, to enable a comprehensive, sensible energy policy to be followed, these questions have to be looked at in the context of our energy policy as a whole. That is why the principal responsibility for matters of this kind lies with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I keep a close watch on the effects on the Scottish economy of all sorts of developments, but the question of a fuel policy as such is a matter for the Department of Trade and Industry.

Mr. Douglas

Will the hon. Gentleman take into consideration the declining labour force in the mining industry in Scotland, and will he undertake to hold an inquiry into the effects of miners having to move from job to job and pit to pit? It is a disgrace that men who want to maintain as comprehensive a labour force as possible are asked to behave like gipsies.

Mr. Younger

When a considerable number of people are likely to lose their jobs because of pit closures, we try to offer alternative employment in other industries, but many of the men wish to continue in the trade which they have learned from their youth onwards. That is why some of them feel that they want to move to other coalfields, and all we can do is to make it as comfortable and as easy as possible for them to do so.

Mr. Sillars

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, if there were a comprehensive energy policy, it would be advantageous to coal? Will he say when there will be such a comprehensive energy policy?

Mr. Younger

That is what one might call a leading question. The point I was making was that it was not my responsibility to comment on the balance between different fuels or on the question of a comprehensive fuel policy. Those are matters for my colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry.

Mr. Alexander Wilson

Can the hon. Gentleman now answer the question which I asked him some time ago and tell me the amount of money that is being allocated under Section 9 of the Coal Industry Act to prevent further pit closures in the Scottish coalfields? Would it not be more prudent to prevent further pit closures, and also to consider the possibility of new sinkings?

Mr. Younger

A lot has been done by successive Governments to try to ease these problems when they arise, but matters of this sort should be referred to the Department of Trade and Industry, which is the Department responsible for energy generally.